Freeware or Shareware?
If I realeased a software and want to give it for free now, but I might charge people later (not in a few days, but at least in a few months) should I define it as shareware? or can I stick with software until I change the deal? If it's a frewware am I not committed to give the freeware version for free forever? I will release more versions obviously, but they will all have the same features.
1 Answer from Attorneys
Re: Freeware or Shareware?
The question does not specify the jurisdiction, so I will try to provide a generic (not country specific) answer.
Software has generally been recognized as protected by copyrights, and therefore, as the author you will be automatically become the owner of the copyrights in the software. Please note that in some jurisdiction, certain aspects of the software may be protected by a patent (depending on the underlying technology) and releasing the software without first applying for a patent may diminish the ability to later obtain patent protection.
You do not loose the copyrights to software that is released as freeware, and your rights are governed by the license agreement between you and the users (I strongly recommend having a license agreement, even with software distributed as freeware).
However, enforcing those rights (assuming no embedded anti-copying technology), might be difficult, since as a matter of practice users tend to ignore freeware license agreements. If you later attempt to distribute the same software for-pay, you might find out that unlicensed copies are available online. Combating the distributors of those copies is hard and might require many resources (and in most cases won’t be worth the fight).
That said, as long as you do not give away the copyrights to the software (just give away free copies of the software, not the copyrights to the code), and indicate that you retain the copyrights to the software - you do not loose the copyrights. From a legal perspective you may distribute the same software for a fee later on (although from a business perspective it might be smarter that the for-pay version is more advanced and feature-rich so that the users have an incentive to upgrade or license the new version).